NCCU community addresses race relations at town hall

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The town hall was especially timely in the wake of recent police-involved shootings.

The event was in the works before Tulsa and before Charlotte, but those police-involved shootings and the rage that followed certainly fueled much of the discussion at North Carolina Central University's Law School on Wednesday night.

It was a town hall meeting organized by the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, and they asked me to moderate.

From the start, I told the chiefs on the panel and the audience watching by teleconference on UNC campuses from Asheville to Wilmington, that the town hall was intended to be a safe place to have a tough discussion.

The law students and community members who filled the rooms came armed with serious concerns.

"My main concern was why now police are pulling out their guns to kill," said Ronnie Clark, an NCCU law student.

"I personally am scared when I am pulled over certain times," NCCU law student Justin Clark admitted. So, I just wanted to know what they had to say."

The chiefs tackled how their departments have put new focus on training to deescalate tense moments with the public. And, how officers can help change perceptions that segments of a community, often minority, are being targeted.

One community member suggested the so-called "war on crime" translated into a war on the communities that police serve.

"I was very surprised (to hear that)," said NCCU Campus Police Chief Odetta Johnson. "I know that we have some challenges going on. But I was surprised so many people and not just young people were shaking their heads feeling that we were in a state of war. That means we have a lot of work to do."

"I heard some things in the audience that kind of rang true for me as far as culture; that's something I've been thinking about," said Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis. "We need to work on the culture of contemporary law enforcement and change that as soon as possible."

There was still some skepticism afterward, but also more hope for a better dialogue.

"It was good to hear that they actually have programs that they're implementing to reach out to the community," said Hugh Hudson, an NCCU law student.

"I did appreciate the fact that the chiefs and the panelists were open," said NCCU law student Dondrea Jackson. "Even if it was a comment I disagreed with, I don't really feel like that they were apprehensive to answering the questions. And I think we need more of that."

"(The town hall) was very helpful," said Association President Robert Hassell, chief of police in Reidsville. "It sparked conversation that will lead to more conversation, that's going to lead to hopefully strategies and plans to build stronger communities."

The event may just be the ice breaker in a series of conversations.

The dean of NC Central's law school is hoping this could be the start of an ongoing public discussion with local police leadership.

Before the event, ABC11 asked several people at NCCU about their expectations for the town hall. Their responses can be seen in the video players below.

NCCU law student, Adam Whiticker
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Adam Whiticker

Watch - Dean of the NCCU School of Law, Phyliss Craig-Taylor
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Phyliss Craig-Taylor

Watch - NCCU law student, Dondrea Jackson
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Dondrea Jackson

Watch - NCCU associate law professor, community outreach coordinator and co-founder of NCCU's virtual justice program, Pamela Glean
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Pamela Glean

RELATED - NCCU town hall meeting on community-police relations

ABC11'S Stephanie Lopez contributed to this report.

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